Now Don’t Look To Us

Usually I do entries in this block after I’ve finished a writing spell. It’s like a cool down from a long run and after spending so long trying to make stuff up it’s a bit of a relief to have a few paragraphs just writing about how the day is going.

It is getting a little bit old though. There’s only really so much I can give away when I’m writing about writing a book lest the entire story be dropped out there before time. I was thinking about writing a little bit about movies I like. Nothing greatly critical or in depth but just something to say why a particular title appeals to me and how I discovered it.

If anything it’ll give you a break from reading about me getting stressed at various chapters. I also means I can get some pictures up to brighten it up because there are not many interesting pictures I can place here to convey the writing process.

The first time I ever heard of the terms ‘Manga’ and ‘Anime’ were when I read Super Play magazine in the early 90’s. The vast majority of the magazine’s contents were about the Super Nintendo and there were certainly many magazines covering the same topic at the time. What made Super Play special though was the fact that, despite being written and made in the UK, it was designed as if it were Japanese. This was even right down to the price being in both Pounds and Yen on the front cover. Nobody in the UK used the term ‘Japanese Role Playing Game’ (or JRPG) in 1993 because nobody really knew anything about the culture. Super Play made an effort to change all that.

In between the sections of video games Super Play had regular columns about Japanese comics and animated TV series and films. Names like Appleseed and Ghost In The Shell cropped up a whole but one title seemed to be lauded as the pinnacle of anime at the time. That was when I first read about Akira. Not only was it apparently a fantastic movie but it was also constantly being lined up for video game adaptations that were either poor or didn’t turn up at all.

I don’t think I ever took steps to seek out Akira though. Japanese animation seemed a whole world away from Scotland, there were certainly no streaming services to watch it on at the time and buying it would involve importing a VHS copy that may or may not work on our current VCR set up. It bypassed me for a good few years. Eventually though it was screened as a special on Channel 4 in the very early hours of the morning. I happened to flick through channels, land on it and instantly recognise the opening bike chase scene through Neo Tokyo. I stuck around and watched the whole thing. It instantly became one of my favourite films.

I always have a theory that certain themes in films are often tackled much better by those from countries who experienced such events themselves. District 9, a film made in South Africa about aliens being segregated from humans in Johannesburg is all the more compelling as it comes from a country has seen apartheid. Akira is the story about a weapon being set off that will destroy the city and its inhabitants from a country that experienced two atomic bombs.

Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo and based on his mage series of the same name Akira tells the story of the leader of a biker gang called Kaneda trying to save his friend Tetsuo from secret government experiments that turn him into a weapon. Tokyo was bombed twenty years previously in the story and it’s very possible it may happen again. This feeling of everything being one step away from destruction feeds Akira and keeps it going right until the end.

There isn’t really a frame out of place in Akira and as I watched it in my room on a 14 inch Sony TV in 1993 I was blown away. Being made in the late 80’s meant that computer technology wasn’t really up to speed yet for something like Akira’s scope. Everything in the movie is hand drawn and painted, each individual cell and it’s all the more staggering when you see it flowing. Akira was the movie that convinced me that animation can say something and not just be the reserve of Saturday morning kid’s TV. It lead into a great appreciation of Japanese art in general. Akira tapped into my love of sci fi but put a whole other cultural spin on it. For that reason it’s a high entry in my favourite film list.

Also I never got around to buying the VHS. I did buy the DVD when it came out though. I’ll probably get the bluray as well.